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Regional Theater Hits

What do Paul Newman, James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman all have in common? All three actors performed at some of America’s top regional theaters.

World premieres like “The Color Purple,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Come From Away” didn’t debut in in the Big Apple or even Chicago, but at these smaller, popular regional theaters. Though a night at the theater might not come to mind when planning trips to Dallas or Washington, the Broadway-ready productions created at these regional theaters will impress any group looking for top-quality entertainment.

Cleveland Play House


Before theaters popped up in every major city, the Cleveland Play House opened in 1915 as America’s first professional regional theater. The Northeast Ohio theater received the 2015 Regional Theatre Tony Award on its 100th year of operation for its long history of over 1,600 productions.

More than 100 American or world premieres occurred at the downtown Cleveland theater. Paul Newman, Alan Alda and Margaret Hamilton launched their careers at the Cleveland Play House, which continues to draw talented actors and staff.

In Playhouse Square, the heart of Cleveland’s theater district, Play House performances are held at three venues, including the Allen Theatre. The regional theater regularly accommodates touring groups for its performances, with packages available for events held before or after the show. The group sales department regularly plans group sit-down dinners, appetizer events and overnight stays in the Theatre District.

Typically, the company offers a seven-show series from fall to late spring. More than 12 million audience members have attended the Play House’s contemporary dramas, comedies and musicals. The theater company builds all shows from the ground up in Cleveland.

Youth groups often enjoy attending a discounted Student Matinee performance that features activities aimed at education before and after the show.

Arena Stage


Theater buffs have long felt esteem for Washington’s Arena Stage. That esteem was first illustrated when presenters announced the theater as the recipient of the first Regional Tony Award in 1976. Founded in 1950, the theater company is one of the country’s first nonprofit theaters.

Another distinction for Arena Stage occurred in 1968 when “The Great White Hope,” starring James Earl Jones, became the first regional theater production to continue on to Broadway. The play won both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The theater has developed 22 Broadway productions, including “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Sweat” and “Next to Normal.” Performances highlight aspects of American life, with a mix of classic productions and original work. Kevin Kline, Jon Voight and several other actors have performed for the company.

Arena Stage holds performances at three venues at the Mead Center for American Theater. Each space offers accessible seating and assistive-listening technology. Groups can enjoy special perks, such as discounted tickets, postshow discussions and behind-the-scenes opportunities.

Staff can arrange exclusive dinner receptions with on-site catering from Richard’s Place, located inside the Mead Center. Patrons can also easily dine a five-minute walk away at the newly opened District Wharf shopping center.